Nonsequitur: Our Lost Boys (Part I)

May 1, 2015

While reading various accounts of the Baltimore riots, I was struck by the pictures of the violence, specifically, the faces of the rioters. They are mostly young men and boys, African American, roughly the same age. They should be in school or at work, but they are not. They are rioting and looting.

These are the same faces you can see in pictures of the riots in Ferguson or New York City or Chicago or any number of urban settings where “race violence” breaks out. You can see these same faces in old photographs of the 1968 Baltimore riots.

 

These faces remind me of the “lost boys of the Sudan.” In the late 80’s and early 90’s, 20,000 boys were driven from their homes by civil war and violence, crossing the desert to seek refuge in surrounding countries. It took decades before the survivors could be reunited with families. Many died. Few returned to the Sudan.

But our “lost boys” don’t really have safe haven. They cannot escape the violence and crime of their neighborhoods. Their families cannot shield them from the drugs and gangs that are entwined around their lives. They have neither meaningful work nor meaningful schooling. They have nowhere to go.

When they lose one of their own, and Freddie Ward was one of the “lost boys,” they do the only thing they know to do, riot and loot, even though these actions can only hurt their families and their community. They riot and loot even though they know it is wrong.

The police who allegedly assaulted and killed Freddie Gray will be arrested and tried. It is likely they will be convicted and punished. But this won’t really change anything. The “lost boys” will still be where they have been, with little hope of breaking free from the chain of crime, violence and poverty.

You can see more pictures of the riots in a good slide show here.

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